Hundreds of people marched in Warsaw to protest political repression in Belarus on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Belarus presidential election that the opposition says was rigged in favor of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Many Belarusians living in exile in Poland joined the demonstration in which people carried the Belarusian opposition's red-and-white flag and chanted "Long live Belarus!" The protest began in central Warsaw and marched past the U.S. and Russian embassies. A speaker at the latter accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for repression in Belarus since the election awarded Lukashenka a sixth term in the election. Belarusians also marched in Kyiv on the eve of the election anniversary to show solidarity with those who fight for freedom in Belarus and to commemorate the death of Belarusian activist Vital Shyshou, who was found hanged in a park in Kyiv after he was reported missing on August 2.
Ukrainian police have launched a murder investigation into the death of the 26-year-old, who led a Kyiv-based organization helping persecuted Belarusians.
Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya posted a video clip of the march in Kyiv on Twitter, saying Belarus made a choice a year ago "and we continue to defend it."
The Belarusian opposition consider her the real winner of the August 2020 presidential vote. The 38-year-old left Belarus out of fears for her safety amid a brutal state-orchestrated crackdown on dissent. The results of the August 9, 2020, presidential election touched off massive street protests throughout Belarus, which led to the crackdown. Over the last year Belarusian authorities have forcibly expelled or jailed opposition leaders, arrested tens of thousands of people, targeted dozens of NGOs, and refused accreditation to or forced out journalists. Lukashenka has earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” in the West for his relentless repression of dissent, including the forced diversion in May of a Ryanair commercial flight to Belarus to arrest an opposition blogger and his girlfriend.
The organizers of the Warsaw march said the event was held as a sign that Belarusians in Poland will not give up their fight to bring change to Belarus. Among their demands was the release of political prisoners held in Belarus.
Poland, along with Lithuania and Ukraine, is hosting a number of Belarusians living in exile. One of the most recent to arrive is Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, an athlete who was granted a humanitarian visa after she refused her coaches’ orders that she return to Minsk after she publicly criticized their decisions. The European Union on August 8 also acknowledged the anniversary of the Belarusian presidential election, saying in a statement it was ready to take "further measures" beyond sanctions already imposed "in light of the regime’s blatant disregard of international commitments."
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter that Belarusians went to the polls on August 9 last year to vote for democracy.
"Since then they have stood up for those values against [the Lukashenka] regime’s brutal repression," he said. “Voices of the people of Belarus will not be silenced! We #StandwithBelarus.”